The strife to attend the NARST conference held at Wydham Rio Mar Resort, San Juan, Puerto Rico began with a funding request to my scholarship agency in December, 2012. The agency graciously accepted the request in March, 2013. Well, if you are thinking that the wait must have been stressful, then yes, you are right. As I packed my bag to go to San Juan to present my first research work at an international forum, I received an email to sign a petition to make the association more transparent, which included the selection of affordable conference venues. Though my trip was fully funded, many of my fellow grad students were experiencing financial stretch because of the amount of money involved in registration, room reservations, internet, and not to forget human’s basic need– food. As one of my friends said rightly that it was more like a “NAR$T” this time.
I flew to San Juan on Friday 5th April. I waited for my colleague, so that I may share the taxi fare. The moment I stepped outside from the airport, I was greeted by warm and humid winds. I felt for a second as if I was in Pakistan. It was night when we drove to our hotels. The villas, where I was staying had their staff member waiting for me, who escorted me to my single-bedroom villa. Oh, I felt as a royalty as I entered the door; dimmed lights, with light romantic music! I was tired. I changed and slipped in to my bed as quickly as possible. Next morning, when I woke up, I looked out through the thin white curtain. Wow! I couldn’t believe my eyes; palm trees, wind, and a vast blue sea. The place is indeed enchanted. I enjoyed my morning tea in the balcony, breathing in the fresh air.
The conference venue was extravagant. I walked through the corridors of the resort, and appreciated the interior. I saw familiar faces as I walked around, and some smiling unfamiliar faces. I skimmed through the conference program for the day and highlighted presentations I wished to attend. Being a teacher educator, I’m interested in in-service and pre-service teacher research. There were many interesting titles that caught my attention. What amazed me that how many people around the world think alike and want to make a difference through improving equity and preparing better teachers. The belief that education can bring about a change, was unanimous.
Being humongous in nature, conferences like the NARST are always a venue for a very few new friendships and collaborations. Well, there can be several reasons. I find that you meet new people who’d like to stay in touch are those who are either interested in what you research about, and see opportunities for future collaboration, or they share some other commonalities, such as context or habits. For instance, I saw many international students and faculty getting together and finding comfort in each other’s presence. I found Indians, Bangladeshi and myself getting together. Similarly, as I walked in between the tables one afternoon to attend the luncheon, I sat at a vacant table. Many familiar and unfamiliar faces passed by the table, and found another place to sit. After 10 minutes, I saw a gorgeous female looking across the dining tables. She slowly walked around and I heard her saying, “Can I sit with you?” I happily said, “Sure. I’d like some company too.” She replied as she secured a seat, “I’m never very comfortable in big gatherings and in so many new people around.” I smiled and said, “So do I!” We sat and talked about everything. Her advisor is an Indian and one of her very good friends is a Pakistani from Lahore. A group of German scholars came to join us for the lunch. We exchanged our research interests, and thoughts about the venue and food.
My first ever presentation, “Personas of Novice Science Mentors” went well. I enjoyed it thoroughly. I was happy to see my advisor sitting right in front of me. Looking in the eyes of a familiar face always helps when I am nervous. I also met Shelly whose research overlaps with mine and I hope to have some good conversations around our research works with her in future. Preparing presentation clarified many aspects of my framework. After my presentation, I enjoyed my walk on the beach. You can read about my thoughts here. I also presented a poster with my friend and a colleague Dante. We had good number of people stopping by and discussing with us their contexts with reference to our poster. We were amazed about the fact that many developing and developed countries around the world share the same issues of inequity in education.
I wanted to see the real Puerto Rico. With no excess to transport, it was difficult to commute around. However, a friend from MSU offered if I wanted to accompany her to Old San Juan. Of course, I accepted the offer. As we drove to the Old San Juan, brick houses, small shops along the road sides, distance in kilometers, petrol in liters were other reasons to feel nostalgic. We reached the Old Town after 45 minutes of drive. The streets were narrow, bumpy, bricked and busy. With the number of policemen around, I assume those streets to have a darker side too. We walked around and had food at a very decorated restaurant. It was pricy. We also went to the old fort. One can’t stop praising the thoughtfulness behind the architecture of the fort.
The next day I checked out from the hotel at 5.30am. The drive to the airport was interesting as the driver acted as a guide too. After a day of catching, and missing flight connections, I arrived home safely. I love my little personalized apartment. Yet, the temperature change from 80 degrees to 37 degree made me feel like this!
Divided We Stand: The Thought I Brought with me
We humans like to draw line. No matter where we go, either to professional gatherings like the NARST or standing in a line to board a plane, we find ways to differentiate US from the others on the basis of almost everything from socio-economic status to intellect. We like to talk about big ideas such as equity, equality, social justice, etc. Yet, people in the first class stand and board the same plane from a different lane. The high profiles in the education sectors are no different. No matter how friendly they behave, there is always a thin line that defines them and differentiate you from them. Does having equity dinners during conferences make a difference in our attitudes? Can we ever achieve equity?